Jew In The CIty: Anger and Jewish Values
The Slap Heard Round the World: What if Hollywood Had Jewish Values
March 28, 2022
There’s war, there’s inflation, there’s a pandemic that won’t quite quit, but the news of the day is Will Smith slapping Chris Rock at the Oscars last night for making fun of Smith’s wife’s baldness due to her alopecia. Lots of people are sounding off today, mostly on the side of “violence is never the answer,” but for a community that is so judgmental of Judaism, that makes us always look bad and backwards, I think Hollywood could use some Jewish wisdom to deal with the slap heard round the world.
First off – public embarrassment, called busha raba in Hebrew – is considered worse than murdering someone. No, the punishment for mortification is not violence or death. Public embarrassment is compared to murder so that its severity will be internalized and the actions avoided. Of course comedians need to make jokes, but they don’t need to make jokes at someone else’s expense. Perhaps if Hollywood had higher standards in regards to avoiding public humiliation, last night’s assault would never have happened.
Second – there is no room to become overtaken with anger in Judaism. Maimonides recommends always finding the Golden Mean (shvil hazahav) when it comes to personality traits, but there are two areas where he takes exception: arrogance and anger. These are two issues that probably a lot of celebrities could use help with. The Gemara in Shabbos tells us:
R’ Shimon Ben Elazar said in the name of Chilfa bar Agra, who said in the name of R’ Yochanan Ben Nuri: One who tears his clothing in anger, or who smashed vessels in his anger, or who scatters money in his anger – he should be in your eyes like an idolater.
Why is an angry person compared to an idolater and how do we stand up for ourselves in an appropriate way? Also, what if we have suppressed rage due to childhood emotional neglect because we never advocated for ourselves or some deep hurt we experienced? Is there a kosher way to express that?
The angry person is compared to an “oveid Avodah Zara” (a server of foreign forces) (i.e. an idolater) because he is no longer in control of himself. He is overcome by an outside force which he becomes intoxicated by as opposed to being able to use his free will as he chooses. This is scary, this is dangerous. Anyone can be taken over by this outside insidious force and we all must remain vigilant and work on self-control to avoid it.
We are allowed and sometimes even required to express disappointment, hurt, disgust. We may even do so with a volume in our voice if the situation calls for it. But the emotion can never overtake us where we serve it as opposed to us being the ones in control. Will Smith clearly has some baggage to unpack. Anyone who flies off the handle does.
Psychologists agree that trauma needs to be processed not just in the mind but in the body as well. Trauma can exit our body through crying, screaming or a combination of both. If a person has been hurt or lived through a lifetime of being silenced, the build up of rage will be real and will need to come out. But those emotions must be expressed in a controlled space and not in front of Chris Rock’s face.
To summarize – don’t humiliate others, stand up for yourself or a cause when you need to, but do it in a controlled way. Let your body process rage, grief, anger, when it needs to, but do it in a controlled time and place.
And finally, our sages teach that, “someone who is merciful to the cruel, will end up being cruel to the merciful.” (Yalkut Shimoni Shmuel I). So don’t make excuses for people, no matter how famous they are, with anger management issues.
My Sit-down With Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks On Faith In Modern Times
February 8, 2018
An international religious leader, philosopher, award-winning author and respected moral voice, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Described by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales as “a light unto this nation” and by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as “an intellectual giant,” Rabbi Sacks is a frequent and sought after contributor to radio, television and the press both in Britain and around the world. Since stepping down as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth – from 1991 to 2013 – Rabbi Sacks has held a number of professorships at academic institutions including Yeshiva University. He currently serves as the Ingeborg and Ira Rennert Global Distinguished Professor at New York University. Rabbi Sacks has been awarded seventeen honorary doctorates including a Doctor of Divinity, and is the author of more than 30 books.
I sat down with him once to discuss some of the most burning questions on my mind on the relevance of ancient religion in the modern world. Here is our discussion:
Jew in the City:
How can people balance faith with rational thinking?
There’s a wonderful neuroscientist named Antonio Demario who showed that if people acted purely rationally they would never ever be able to make a decision. Richard Dawkins is the world’s most famous atheist. I asked if he was an optimist. He said, “Of course.” I said, “where’s the evidence?” You cannot examine history or nature, every reason you give for being and optimist is the same one that someone would give for being a pessimist. David Hume said, you observe the sunrise for the one millionth time. You can’t prove that it will happen the 1m +1 time. Science is built on a leap of faith. Einstein said, “G-d doesn’t play dice with the universe.” We have an exaggerated belief in rationality. Actually, it only answers a few questions. Not things like, why does music matter? Why does a sense of humor matter? Why do we bother to pursue justice? Why is it better to be a good person than an entirely selfish one? What is wrong with narcissism? All questions that cannot be proved rationally. I think people look at rationality with the same kind of superstition that primitive people look at religious faith. Frankly, Judaism is more subtle and complex than that because humanity is more subtle and complex than that.
For more information visit www.jewinthecity.com